James Beach: I salute you

I’ve tried to avoid most of the discussion surrounding reclining seats, the Knee Defender and flight diversions. Mostly because I thought it should be obvious that such a fight is ridiculous in every conceivable context. Alas, it seems that it isn’t so obvious. The guy involved in the first of the recent diversions spoke out finally, sharing his version of the story. Alas, I’m not so sure it helps his case.

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The gist of it is that he complied with the flight attendant’s request to allow the passenger to recline and then when she did he got pissed and reacted badly. Things escalated from there.

That’s when Beach’s anger boiled over. He said he pushed the woman’s seat forward and put the Knee Defender back in. The woman stood up and threw a cup of soda — not water, as previously reported — at him.

So the guy was a schmuck and reacted badly to a scenario which was less than ideal, causing more unfortunate behavior. And, eventually, a flight diversion inconveniencing everyone on board. And the follow-on stories have mostly been about how awful the coach flying experience is and how the airlines are evil, crushing our knees and our souls as they cram more people into every plane to increase their profits.

Except that version of the story misses a key fact: The incident happened in United’s Economy Plus section. He had 35 inches of pitch at his disposal (plenty of first class seats are only 36-37″) and still somehow decided that wasn’t enough. And that 35″ spacing is MORE than airlines had in coach 10+ years ago, back in the “good old days” where there were fewer passengers on board. There is simply no excuse, other than that the guy is a schmuck. Or, perhaps a bit more to the point:

Added bonus: Despite being informed that using the Knee Defender device is prohibited on US airlines he says he plans to continue using it when he flies.

Am I the only one who wants the next incident to result in some people being arrested rather than just inconveniencing the 100+ others on the plane who had to suffer their idiocy??

Probably not the salute he was hoping for.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Fine if he wants to use, but doesn’t an airline and crew have the right to ban someone from flying? How does he like them apples?

  2. Easy solution. Now the idiot has self-identified, every airline that bans the device can simply ban him.

  3. The schmuck even looks like one without him actually doing anything but sitting there in his picture.

  4. So what is UA FA’s responsibility if one of the items is used on a plane and passenger refuses to remove it? Where does that discussion go next?

    1. No need to divert, but failure to obey crew instructions can be addressed by meeting a uniformed officer upon arrival at the destination or, if repeated issues, banning someone from an airline. Far too many people think the rules don’t really apply to them. This guy was told that they do and ignored it, causing major issues. I’d like to believe that he flew Spirit home because UA blacklisted him rather than rebooking him out the next morning. But that might just be wishful thinking on my part.

  5. Was his name Nick? Sorry I couldn’t resist.

    I don’t blame him for having the device or using but when I found out he was in E+ he lost my vote.

  6. This is a helpful article and provides a link to the following statement (which I also provide)

    from article:
    In an email, a United Airlines spokesperson succinctly explained that “we don’t allow customers to use devices that prevent seats from reclining” — a reference to a controversial $22 anti-reclining device called the “Knee Defender” — and added that the carrier won’t be making “any special announcements” in response to recent events.

    Here’s United’s official policy:

    United strictly prohibits the modification or use of any object or device to alter or limit the functionality, permanently or temporarily, of any aircraft structure, seat assembly, tray table, etc. If you see a customer using any such device or object, please inform United personnel immediately.

    Link to policy: http://www.united.com/web/en-US/content/travel/inflight/default.aspx

    Worth traveling with a copy of that statement, though I expect FA’s are receiving in-house guidance this week.

  7. Is there a cost incurred to the passenger who causes the diversion? Are other passengers compensated for their lost time? (Not sarcasm, actual questions.)

    1. In theory the airlines can try to charge the passenger for the cost of the diversion. As I understand it that VERY rarely happens.

      Other affected passengers get nothing for their troubles.

  8. Thanks for pointing out that both passengers were in E+. That really seems to be lost on most people out there!

  9. He is an asshole pure and simple. Somehow the woman was being rude to him by using her seat as it is designed to be used in a section that is designed to be more comfortable than regular coach. He is totally self involved asshole.

  10. I support the right to recline. However, I do think the Knee Defender is appropriate if used in a certain way: to prevent unexpected, rapid reclines. However, it must be removed and explained upon first recline attempt.

  11. I liked that comment on the article you linked to: “Wait..so this guy never reclines his seat?? even when flying from Moscow to Denver? he’s missing out..”
    You are right, it is nuts. We have encountered such a schmuck on one of our Europe flights. He started shaking my father-in-law’s seat to teach him a lesson, when the latter had the audacity to recline it a little. Not quite as dramatic as this story, but still.

  12. Yeeaaahh, the full story doesn’t help his case. I made a short video on things not to do while traveling, and my main thing was, just don’t be a jerk!! Everyone is tired and probably cranky, and trying to GET somewhere. Don’t be that person that makes things worse!!

  13. The Ferris Bueller clip hits the spot, but riddle me this…

    If the FA ended up moving the slam-reclining woman after she threw her beverage at the jerk, why didn’t she just move here beforehand and save UAL and the rest of the passengers the cash and inconvenience?

    1. No need to move her the first time and inconvenience others given that the guy agreed to cooperate. Only after he then pushed her seat up and started a fight – one which she also participated in – was there really a reason to make the move.

      1. You mean only after she slammed her seat back into his laptop screen?

        She was pretty clearly spoiling for action.

        1. I mean that I’m quite certain his view of how aggressively she reclined is a bit skewed. No doubt that she was frustrated that he proved himself a schmuck initially and she easily could have defused the situation at more than one point. But both of them are at fault.

  14. James Beach does not own United, I do not buy tickets to fly on JamesBeach Airline, and he doesn’t own a damn thing on a United Airlines plane. They should have tossed him off – and not bother with landing when they do.

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